US Airlines Warn of a 'Catastrophic' Crisis Caused by New 5G Services

They claim that more than 100,000 passengers could be affected in a single day.
Chris Young
A 5G cell tower.Bill Oxford/iStock

Several high-profile executives of U.S. airlines warned on Monday, January 17, of an oncoming "catastrophic" aviation crisis that will take hold by Wednesday should AT&T and Verizon activate their new 5G services, a report from Reuters reveals.

In a letter obtained by Reuters, the CEOs of several passenger and cargo airlines in the United States, including Delta, United, and Southwest Airlines, warned that signals from the two companies' new C-Band 5G cell towers could interfere with navigation and safety equipment on their planes.

US airline executives claim the public will be grounded by 5G services

"Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded," the executives stated in their letter, which was sent to various government organizations, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the White House Economic Council. "Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies."

The FAA had previously warned that 5G interference could affect sensitive aircraft instruments and cause widespread disruption, especially during low-visibility operations caused by bad weather. The letter says that on a day of poor visibility, "more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays" due to the interference caused by 5G signals.

The airline executives said that urgent action is required and that AT&T and Verizon should not activate any 5G towers within 2 miles of any of the country's busiest airports. The letter states that 5G should be "deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption."

The aviation industry versus 5G

In January 2021, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon spent almost $80 billion to buy the C-Band spectrum required for their 5G services from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In November, last year, those companies agreed to delay the activation of their services so the FAA could properly address aviation interference concerns. Another two-week delay was announced on January 4.

In a blog post in November, the CEO of U.S.-based wireless industry group CTIA, Meredith Attwell Baker, stated that a further delay to the rollout of 5G "will cause real harm. Pushing back deployment one year would subtract $50bn in economic growth, just as our nation recovers and rebuilds from the pandemic." Baker also said there is "no valid scientific or engineering basis to justify a delay." 

According to a BBC report, ongoing negotiations at the highest levels of the U.S. government have been described as "very fluid". In light of these talks, the U.S. government will have to quickly weigh the economic interests of the aviation industry and telecommunications companies against the backdrop of a country plagued by travel disruptions in recent months and years. 

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